Made by mountains: Regional brand aims to drive entrepreneurship, stewardship in WNC’s outdoor economy
The outdoor industry has for years been on an upward trajectory in Western North Carolina, and a regional branding campaign unveiled May 18 aims to boost it even further.
“It’s all about that sense of being welcomed and being encouraged and having pride of place,” said director of sector development for Mountain BizWorks, Noah Wilson, “That’s the core of it.”
A shared brand
The brand, Made X Mtns — to be read as “made by mountains” — is intended to help outdoor businesses and communities in Western North Carolina unite around a shared story about how these mountains made the region into the outdoor industry hub of the eastern U.S. Just like the letters OBX conjure images of wide beaches and quaint lighthouses in the Outer Banks — even to people who have never visited that beach before — the letters WNC may one day draw a similar level of recognition from people who reside far from the North Carolina mountains.
Created by Growing Outdoors, Made X Mtns aims to help the ever-growing number of small businesses that comprise WNC’s outdoor economy tell a cohesive story about who they are and what they’re all about. Ultimately, the hope is, the effort will attract new employees, businesses and visitors to the region.
“This is a shared brand that we can all leverage together,” said Wilson. “This is something that will help our communities, our companies and our people all both appreciate what we already have and find ways to have that community that economic development happen around our outdoors — to care for our places and help them care for us.”
The brand was developed using funds from the $940,000 Appalachian Regional Commission Power grant — and $787,000 in local matching funds — Mountain BizWorks landed in 2018 to grow WNC as a breeding ground for outdoor gear companies. Mountain BizWorks created the Growing Outdoors Partnership — a collaborative of 18 different organizations spanning industry, education, finance and economic development who work together to grow WNC’s outdoor economy, led by Mountain BizWorks and the Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC — to implement the goals of that grant.
Growing Outdoors’ core components — accomplished through myriad partnerships — include developing the outdoor industry via outdoor gear builders; putting on the Outdoor Economy Conference, which is the nation’s largest gathering of people working on the outdoor economy; creating outdoor business training opportunities; providing the Waypoint Accelerator, the first outdoor business accelerator east of the Rockies; chipping away at workforce development — and now, attacking regional branding and marketing.
Created through a $75,000 contract with design firm Blue Ion as well as hundreds of hours’ worth of community assistance and at least 2,000 hours from the core team and branding firm Outpost, Made X Mtns aims to create a cohesive, authentically crafted identity for WNC’s outdoor industry.
The Made X Mtns logo is designed to be flexible and scalable for all manner of uses. Abby Cantrell/Made X Mtns photo
Beyond the logo
It’s more than just a logo. The branding effort will include a new website containing a library of shared assets such as photos, which people and organizations across the region can use or contribute to; a robust social media presence; an email newsletter; various outreach events for the media and general public; a professionally produced video introducing the brand; and a focus on storytelling that will include one or two long-form articles per month showcasing the people whose lives are made by North Carolina’s mountains. Made X Mtns hopes to become an ongoing local movement — not just a short-term project.
Storytelling is part of the brand’s genesis, as well as its future. The development process included more than 50 interviews with people across the region to home in on an authentic representation of the region’s identity. The resulting brand anthem — a mountainscape-filled video that seeks to convey the heart of the Made X Mountains brand — speaks to the abundance of water, of greenery and of adventure.
“The adventure is accessible, with ridges rising from the edge of large, diverse cities,” reads the video voiceover. “These mountains aren’t a distant, lofty goal; they’re our backyard.”
The mountains of Western North Carolina are a crucible of creativity, of community and of ingenuity, viewers learn as razor-sharp images of mountain sunsets, afternoon mountain bike adventures and gear builders’ workshops cycle by.
“They’ve made industry leaders and pioneers, individuals who build tools designed to perform in the wild,” it concludes. “Goods tested here, built here, used here. These mountains have made dreamers and doers, tinkerers and builders, athletes and caretakers. WNC is made by mountains. How will these mountains make you?”
It’s a question intended to resonate with residents, with businesses, with visitors and with dreamers who are just starting to think about what the future could be like, should they follow their passion and add their own business to the cadre of outdoor startups peppering the region.
“It’s this ‘national plus local’ campaign,” said Wilson. “And that’s because the reality is if a national person comes here and asks people here about this place, and they don’t believe this place is the East Coast outdoor industry hub, they don’t believe this place is exceptional and extraordinary, we’re not going to be successful. We need locals to understand how awesome a place this is and that really there’s opportunities to be had from embracing outdoor recreation as an economic and community development driver.”
An adventurer rides a boat from Asheville-based company Bellyak down a rapid. Bellyak photo
Headed for growth
Looking at statewide numbers, it’s impossible to overlook the importance of North Carolina’s outdoor industry. It generates $28 billion in consumer spending each year and directly supports 260,000 jobs, supplying $8.3 billion in wages and salaries and $1.3 billion in state and local tax revenue. With more than 1.5 million acres of public land — including world-class trout streams, whitewater runs and hiking and biking trails — Western North Carolina is the nucleus of North Carolina’s outdoor recreation industry.
Wilson thinks it can grow even more — hence the branding effort — but he wants to see that growth happen sustainably, guided by people who live in the mountains and are invested in their future.
There’s a reason why people choose to live in the mountains, he said, and nobody wants to see unchecked growth or irresponsible use of the land erase the beauty and solitude that for so many is a major part of that reason.
“One thing we’re really recognizing in our next phase of work under Growing Outdoors is that for our companies to thrive, they need to make sure that we have communities around us that are also thriving and that really can recognize and leverage the outdoors as an asset and care for it,” he said.
The broader initiative, he said, is a strategy centered on growing together — fostering a thriving economic environment without trampling on the natural beauty that makes it all possible.
Adopt the brand
Learn more about the Made X Mountains brand — and add your story to the collection — at www.madexmtns.com. Follow the movement on social media @madexmtns and help spread the word using the #madexmtns hashtag.